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AMD engineering another Opteron-like leap

A future of APUs and dense-packed servers

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Looking ahead to SledgeHammer, the sequel

If you want to see the future of AMD's server business – or at least a part of it – look no further than the accelerated processing unit, or APU, hybrids that the company has created for laptops and now desktops. With APUs, AMD is putting a low-power CPU and a modestly powerful GPU on a single die. For many workloads, you can make the GPU not just run a display, but do computational work alongside of the CPU. In many cases, as AMD tried to demonstrate with its FireStream GPU coprocessors, which have been discontinued, and as Nvidia and Intel continue to show with their respective Tesla GPU and Xeon Phi x86 coprocessors, the coprocessor is better designed to do parallel work at a much lower power draw than the CPU. So it makes sense to get ceepie-geepie server chips into the field for AMD.

"Servers, as I look forward, become dense, heterogeneous compute clusters," says Gopalakrishnan. "They will have many, many cores put inside of a chassis. And we will deliver heterogeneous compute clusters with different types of processing elements, depending on the workload."

So that means some chips will be a combination of an Opteron CPU and a GPU, while others will be more traditional CPUs, and still others will be server variants of the Fusion or FirePro APUs used inside of PCs and maybe tablets at some point. All of these parts will be branded Opteron, and they will be certified against the Windows and Linux software stacks commonly used in enterprises these days.

It also means making use of the "Freedom" 3D torus/mesh interconnect that AMD got its hands on when it acquired SeaMicro earlier this year, which the company will be enhancing with an Opteron processor later this year.

AMD is not providing any roadmaps for Opteron APUs just yet, but Gopalakrishnan tells El Reg that the first thing the company is doing is getting server software certified to run on selected members of its notebook APU stack right now and that the Opteron roadmap will be updated perhaps early next year once AMD further fleshes its plans out.

It is quite possible that a Fusion or FirePro APU tweaked for server workloads will be the first Opteron processor certified to run inside of the SeaMicro chassis, but it seems far more likely that AMD will plink the Opteron 3200 processor for single-socket machines onto the SeaMicro mobos, replacing Intel's Xeon E3s.

Don't get the wrong idea and think that AMD is getting out of the general-purpose server racket, because it most certainly is not.

"Just because you have dense servers does not mean that 1P, 2P, and 4P die off tomorrow," says Gopalakrishnan. "Once we make a part, it is up to our partners to put them into form factors."

Later this year, AMD will begin the rollout of its "Piledriver" cores for the Opteron family of server chips, and as El Reg has previously reported, the future "Abu Dhabi" Opteron 6300 parts are only expected to offer a 200MHz performance bump over the current Opteron 6200s. The Piledriver cores will have all kinds of architectural tweaks to squeeze more performance out of the same thermal envelopes, of course, so there is no telling yet what the overall performance boost will be.

What Gopalakrishnan could confirm is that the future Abu Dhabi Opteron 6300s for two-socket and four-socket machines, the "Seoul" Opteron 4300s for two-socket and single-socket machines, and the "Delhi" Opteron 3300s for single-socket boxes would have a staggered launch as in Opteron days gone by, with launches in 2012 and 2013 rather than all at once as the Opteron 3200s, 4200s, and 6200s, came out last November. ®

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